How Does the Environment Affect Children in Poverty?

Boy sitting in a dirt field while a man with oxen plows in the background

How do changes in the environment affect children and their families on the front lines of poverty? Here are two stories from Uganda that reflect the devastating impact that climate events can have on the well-being of our sponsored children, and the hope that can be provided by Compassion’s partnership with the local church.

Food Insecurity for a Farmer’s Family

Man harvesting in a garden.
Fred shows how changes in the soil have affected his plants’ roots.

Faith Grace lives in the eastern region of Uganda, the Mbale district, on a small farm tended by her father, Fred. This year has brought much more rain than usual to their region, and during the crucial growing months, the crops have flooded, and the topsoil as well as important fertilizers have been washed away into nearby rivers. Fred’s efforts to cultivate his land now seem futile due to the heavy rain.

Recently, Fred took local Compassion staff members through his fields and showed them the plant roots, which have not developed normally due to the changed soil. He expects that the quality and quantity of food harvest will be far different than in previous years.

Before this year, the yield of millet, beans and maize has been enough to feed Faith Grace’s entire family and provide extra to sell and buy needed items. This year’s yield won’t come close to what they need. In addition to the crops, usually Fred’s farm produces grass to feed the cows and goats, which also provide the family milk to sell and use at home. The quality and quantity of grass this year is not enough to sustain the animals, and their milk production this year has dropped by more than half.

Children chasing a goat through a field. Both are holding sticks.
While eastern Uganda is wetter than usual, western Uganda is experiencing drought.

It can take a lot of time for a farmer to recover from a year like this one, especially because of the way that the quality of the soil, crops and animals are interlinked. If the instability continues for several years, a farm like Fred’s could eventually stop producing altogether. This area of Uganda faces widespread food insecurity because of the changing environment. Families like Faith Grace’s need help to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Recovering From a Landslide With the Church’s Help

Girl looking at the camera and standing in the doorway of a mud building. She is wearing a white dress with large red polka dots.

In Manafwa District of Uganda, there’s a Compassion community on the slopes of Mount Elgon. The terrain of the area is hilly. In the past, the typical rainfall pattern has been predictable and allowed farmers to plan ahead and grow seasonal crops to support their families and build homes that will withstand the rainy season.

In the past three years, the rains have been erratic and heavier than normal. The change in rain patterns, plus steep slopes and poor farming practices, leads to a lot of erosion. The resulting floods and landslides create devastation for poor families, including children Compassion serves.

In 2018, the community experienced a landslide that killed several people, washed away homes and destroyed small farms. This disaster exposed many in the community, including sponsored children, to hunger and malnutrition. Compounding the problem, many roads were left impassible by the flooding, which kept needed supplies from reaching the community.

Peter, the Compassion center director, explained what happened next. “This increased trauma among the children and fear among the adults who witnessed the incidences of death of their relatives and their neighbors. These [events] have left everlasting memories in the majority of the residents in the community.”

Peter also describes how the Compassion center staff at the local church offered help: They organized “family counseling, prayer and entrepreneurship trainings, with the aim of empowering and building capacity of the community members to gain lost hope.”    

Adults stand outside homes surrounded by floor water, wet mud, grass and trees.
Flooding is also affecting families in Kenya, Uganda’s neighbor to the east.

Compassion’s national office in Uganda has been able to help the community rebuild and to provide new housing for families affected by the disaster. In 2018, they completed six houses, and in 2019-2020 they raised support for more than 22 households to rebuild.  

“This has totally recovered the lost hope of the beneficiaries and has changed their lives emotionally. It has increased the self-esteem of the children. … As a result of this, many household members have now turned to Christ since the church has been on the forefront [of recovery].”

A Call to Care for Creation

Boy wearing a blue and maroon shirt with blue shorts. He is standing outside his home and is holding a bucket full of food for his pigs. There are plants surrounding him.

Any time there are dramatic changes in a local climate, the poor will experience the most disruption and destruction. The children we sponsor can be particularly vulnerable to negative effects from pollution and environmental degradation. Though these problems can seem far away, we might be able to do more than we think to love our neighbors when climate disasters strike and to help prevent future disasters.

Faith Grace and Fred, and Peter and his community are examples of both the great needs and the great opportunity for the Church in a time when many children and families are threatened by a changing environment. We can empower children, youths and families in poverty to be resilient when disaster strikes, and we can also do our part to stop contributing to the degradation of the environment.

3 Ways to Act

Children in uniforms holding hands in from a of church. They are standing on grass.

Here are three ways you can seek God’s wisdom on creation care, educate yourself on the needs around the globe related to the environment, and increase your own environmental stewardship:

  • Meditate on Psalm 24, which begins, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” How does God care for creation? What does this passage teach us about God’s concern for all he has made?
  • Take time to research online whether there have been any recent climate-related disasters in the country where your sponsored child lives or in one of the countries that Compassion serves. Pray for those who’ve been affected — often, it can take communities many years to rebuild after a climate disaster, especially poor communities.
  • Think about your own consumption of resources. What is one practical step you might take to reduce waste or make your carbon footprint smaller? For example, if you need to wear a mask daily right now, could you purchase a reusable cloth mask instead of throwing away a disposable mask? These might seem like small steps, but most important habit changes start out small!

7 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Nsenga Richard October 9, 2020

    I am a Compassion Graduate from Uganda with BSC in Agricultural Land Use and Management working to support families in Middle Eastern Uganda to over come the challenges of climate change. If need for my experience and expertise I will be available to support families in extreme poverty to be self sustainable.

    1. Taryn October 12, 2020

      Hello Nsenga, thank you so much for all the work you are currently doing! If you would like, please email us at [email protected] so that we can speak to you further. Thank you so much!

  2. Dale September 30, 2020

    I want to thank Compassion for introducing me to my four kiddos in Indonesia! You don’t need to thank me. My blessing are in knowing I can be of help ….and my constant prayer is that the day will come when they will be released from poverty in Jesus name…..and Compassion allows me to be a small part in His greater plan!

  3. Shoshana Flen September 29, 2020

    I am concerned for my sponsored child in Uganda during COVID…we think we have it bad! I wish they were delivering letters right now so I could get an update.

    1. Taryn September 30, 2020

      Hello Shoshana, thank you so much for your care and concern for your sponsored child. We are so glad you and your family are healthy and safe! We also understand how challenging it is not to hear from the kids while the centers are closed. I encourage you to continue praying and writing to your child because we know how much hope this brings in such a challenging season. ?

  4. Terri September 29, 2020

    We have two sponsored children in Uganda-one in the south-central region and one in the southwest near the mountains. Thank you for this update on what is occurring in Uganda as we had not heard about the drought in the western region, although we knew and prayed for the flooding to end in eastern Uganda previously. We try to stay informed by reading the Crisis Updates and Blogs so we know better how to pray for all of our sponsored children.

    1. Shayla September 29, 2020

      Hi Terri! Thank you so much for sponsoring your two kiddos! I am so glad we could help you learn more about Uganda. We appreciate your prayers. ???

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